The name Nihari comes from the Arabic word Nihar which means morning. Made with beef shank and cooked for hours, one bite of this delectable stew will have you hooked for life. Although it takes a long time to cook, Nihari is well worth the effort.
This rich and spicy stew dates back to the late 17th or Early 18th Century. Served to the Nawabs of the Mughal Empire at the time of the early morning prayer, it continues to be a popular choice for breakfast today.
With the passage of time, the nutritional value of the stew led to it being a popular choice with soldiers and laborers. Post the India/Pakistan partition Nihari found its way to the streets of Karachi. Today it's a favorite for Sunday morning brunch or a Weekend dinner treat.
It's a well known fact that many restaurants keep a small portion of the daily cooked Nihari to add to the next days pot. This is supposed to add to the flavor of the dish and is referred to as a "Taar". Literally, the word Taar means Cable, Telegram or Wire. According to food.ndtv.com some restaurants claim that they have a "Taar" which has been running in their eatery for over a 100 years.
Perhaps this is why our home cooked Nihari always tastes a bit different from the one sold in the streets of Karachi.
Growing up in Pakistan Nihari was a special treat and honestly one that wasn't always cooked at home. Since it's so easily available and affordable, it's one of those things like sooji halwa, aloo masala and chana masala that we usually obtain from street side vendors.
After moving to America this obviously wasn't an option and since Nihari is one of my husbands favorite meals my kitchen experimentations began. My dearest friend at that point in time was my collection of Shan Masalas.
These delightful packages contain the perfect blend of spices along with a recipe on the back and are perfect for a beginner cook. I still revert to using them when I'm too busy to prep my own spice blend and they're a life saver!
Of course my cooking has evolved from those early years and I now use my own spice blend and cooking technique.
This recipe is as close to the original that I can come to without a 100 year old "Taar". I hope you love it as much as I do.
The Nihari Recipe
The two main things essential to an amazing pot of Nihari are Shank Meat with bone in and the spice mix one uses.
Shank Meat is tough and sinewy, but when cooked on low heat for an extended period of time it gets tender to the point that it (literally) melts in your mouth.
The slow cooking process along with the bone and marrow adds to the intense flavor of the dish. Although many people use mutton, chicken or even lamb to cook this dish I would highly recommend finding a good butcher and getting the perfect cut of meat.
Making Your Own Blend
As for the spices, there are many popular pre manufactured spice blends on the market. However, it is a well known fact that spices retain their natural flavor and aroma much better and longer in their whole state. Therefore, grinding your own spices in small batches by far leads to a more flavorful dish. There are also less preservatives and additives this way and as such it's a healthier option.
Finding The Spices
The list of spices mentioned in the recipe is indeed very long, but each one is essential to a perfectly balanced blend. Since you're going to spend a lot of time preparing this dish I would recommend going the extra mile to get all of them and not take any shortcuts. If you don't have any Pakistani or Indian stores near you, they can easily be found on Amazon.
The recipe for both the spice blend and stew itself is very easy. It takes a few hours to cook on a low simmer but you can easily spend that time catching up on other chores around the house. The mouth watering smell in the house makes cleaning and doing laundry a lot more fun !
The last stage is where the stew is thickened with a slurry of the Durum Wheat Flour and The stew is tempered with onions. This is really the only point at which you have to stand and stir or mix the Nihari. It's that easy!
- Non Stick Frying Pan
- Spice Grinder (SEE NOTE)
- Large Wide Cooking Pot
- Cooking Spoon
- Chopping Board
- Mixing Bowls
Nihari Masala Mix (For 5 pounds of meat)
- 10 whole green cardamom
- 2 whole black cardamom
- 3 whole cinnamon sticks
- 2 whole star anise
- 10 whole cloves
- 3 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 3 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- ½ piece nutmeg
- 1 piece mace
- 4 whole long black pepper (Piper Longum) (SEE NOTE)
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- ½ tsp black cumin seeds
- 6 whole bay leaves
- 3 tsp salt
- 4 tsp red chili powder
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tsp kashmiri chili powder
- 4 whole red dried chilies
- 5 lb beef (SEE NOTE)
- ¾ cup cooking oil
- 5 tbsp garlic paste
- 12 cups water
- 1 cup whole wheat flour (SEE NOTE)
- 2 whole onions
- 2 whole lemons
- ½ cup cilantro
- 2 whole green chilies (SEE NOTE)
- 2 inch ginger piece
Nihari Masala Mix (For 5 pounds of meat)
- Saute all of the whole spices in a nonstick frying pan for 2-5 minutes. Constantly stir to prevent burning. The aroma will indicate when you should take them out of the pan.
- Grind all of the spices to a fine powder and mix with the powder spices.
- Heat ½ cup cooking oil in your pot
- Add and saute the garlic for 2-3 minutes
- Add the meat and the nalli (marrow bones) and roast till no longer red
- Add the ground spices and 10 cups of water and bring to a boil
- Lower heat to medium and simmer for 4 hours
- Prepare a slurry with the remaining 2 cups of water and durum flour and add to the Nihari, constantly stirring to prevent any clumps forming. Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes (SEE NOTE)
- Thinly slice and fry the onions in a ¼ cup of oil to a dark brown. Pour the onions and oil on the Nihari and simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Quarter the lemons
- Finely chop the cilantro
- Thinly slice the ginger
- Finely chop the green chilies
- I use a coffee grinder as my spice grinder and find they are the best and most affordable gadget for this purpose. Whatever you use the spices need to be finely ground.
- Piper Longum, also known as Pipli is an Indian Long Pepper that is the primary ingredient in Nihari. You just won't get that authentic taste without it in the mix so I highly recommend using it.
- The best meat to use is Shank Meat and when purchasing it you must buy the "Nalli" or bone with marrow as well. This is what really gives the stew it's rich flavor and a special trip to the butcher will be well worth your effort.
- The flour to use here is Durum flour, known as "Atta" in Pakistan. It has a distinctly nutty taste that's slightly different from other flours and should not be substituted.
- Serrano Chilies are the closest to the Pakistani chilies and my go to when cooking all of my curries. I find that other chili varieties just don't give that authenticity of flavor to my food.
Most people like to trim their meat before cooking but I find that leaving the fat on adds a lot of flavor.
Plus, removing the fat from the meat after the 4 hours of cooking is so easy . The meat is so tender at that point that the excess fat just peels off.
At this point I remove the bones but add the marrow back to the stew. It dissolves right into the curry and adds considerably to the flavor of the final dish. Plus, it has tons of health benefits!